Secretary of Oilstate

Trump said about Tillerson yesterday:

The thing I like best about Rex Tillerson is that he has vast experience at dealing successfully with all types of foreign governments.

Yeahhhh. The Times explains that Tillerson does that in defiance of the State Department and its goals. Exxon has its own foreign policy and it doesn’t necessarily match that of the State Department.

Struggling to keep Iraq from splintering, American diplomats pushed for a law in 2011 to share the country’s oil wealth among its fractious regions.

Then Exxon Mobil showed up.

Under its chief executive, Rex W. Tillerson, the giant oil company sidestepped Baghdad and Washington, signing a deal directly with the Kurdish administration in the country’s north. The move undermined Iraq’s central government, strengthened Kurdish independence ambitions and contravened the stated goals of the United States.

Mr. Tillerson’s willingness to cut a deal regardless of the political consequences speaks volumes about Exxon Mobil’s influence. In the Iraq case, Mr. Tillerson and his company outmaneuvered the State Department, which he has now been nominated by President-elect Donald J. Trump to lead.

“They are very powerful in the region, and they couldn’t care less about what the State Department wants to do,” Jean-François Seznec, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a research group in Washington, said of Exxon Mobil’s pursuits in the Middle East.

So…that makes him a very dubious choice for the job, wouldn’t you think? Of course a new administration may well have a foreign policy that differs from that of the previous administration, but that’s not the same thing as having a 40+ year vested interest in a rival foreign policy driven by the drive for profits.

Exxon Mobil, the Times says, in some ways acts like a state.

While Mr. Tillerson has never officially been a diplomat, he has arguably left an American footprint on more countries than any nominee before him — with an agenda overseas that does not always mesh with that of the United States government.

Under Mr. Tillerson, Exxon Mobil has struck lucrative deals with repressive governments in Africa, clashed with China and befriended Vietnam over disputed territory in the South China Sea, learned from hard experience in Venezuela, and built a close rapport with Russia at a time of deepening mistrust between the Kremlin and the West.

So in a way he’s a member of a foreign government invited to take the top foreign policy job in this government.

Exxon Mobil executives said Mr. Tillerson was not available for an interview. But they argued that he and Mr. Putin are not friends, countering criticism in the United States that Mr. Tillerson is too close to Russia to take a strong stance against it. Mr. Putin awarded Mr. Tillerson a medal of friendship for concluding corporate deals in Russia.

Not long after, the United States imposed sanctions on Russia’s oil industry in 2014 over Moscow’s deadly intervention in Ukraine, leading American foreign policy and the company’s investment goals to diverge. Exxon Mobil now has billions of dollars in deals that will move forward only if the sanctions are lifted.

Some officials and executives argue that Mr. Tillerson’s business-minded approach to Russia could ease tensions, a view questioned by many diplomats, rights groups and advocates of disarmament.

Oddly enough, the drive for profits isn’t the solution to all problems.

In West Africa, Exxon Mobil has made lucrative deals with the government of Equatorial Guinea, which arbitrarily detains and tortures critics, disregards elections, and has faced international prosecution for using oil profits to enrich the president’s family.

But under Mr. Tillerson, Exxon Mobil has also been criticized for a lack of transparency in dealings with the Nigerian government. The country’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is investigating a 2009 license renewal deal for Exxon Mobil, after allegations that the company was significantly outbid by a Chinese competitor. Critics contend that the deal was done illegally.

“They were running a very corrupt and opaque renewal process,” Olanrewaju Suraju, the chairman of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption in Nigeria, said of the Nigerian government in power at the time.

Some analysts said that Exxon Mobil had a singular goal overseas.

“The one clear trend that runs through Exxon’s foreign policy is that they are really all about business and doing what is best for shareholders,” said Ben Van Heuvelen, the managing editor of Iraq Oil Report. “They are willing to look the other way in the face of a whole host of problems.”

Being all about business isn’t some magical path to perfection, to put it mildly.

4 Responses to “Secretary of Oilstate”